Thinking about a visit to Bethlehem or just curious about what this city can offer? This article is meant to help you no matter what, so continue reading.
When I think about Bethlehem I always think about Christmas with its Christmas carols and “the most wonderful time of the year”! While Christmas today is more about presents and shopping, let’s not forget the real reason for happiness which is the birth of Baby Jesus.
Long time ago, in a small town called Bethlehem, the miracle happen. Not in a hospital, not in the comfort of today but in a simple stable, the One coming to save us was born.
Starting with this premise, my idea about the city Bethlehem was completely different from what I have seen. This small city has grown massively and now only your imagination can transpose the past over today’s picture.
Today, Bethlehem is the most visited city in the West Bank thanks to its very good position. Only 8 km far away from Jerusalem, can be easily accessed by public transportation like minibus or taxi. Even if the main attractions can be done in a few hours, I highly recommend to stay overnight and explore the surroundings.
Now, let’s see what this Christmassy city has to offer!
Visit Bethlehem Old city
The Old City contains the most important points of interest, including the main attractions like Nativity Church and the Milk Grotto Chapel. Are all concentrated in the same area, within walking distance one from the other.
Church of the Nativity
For many visitors, this church is the center of attraction of Bethlehem. It was built on the spot Jesus was born, around the grotto itself.
As you’ll approach the entrance, you will notice the very short and wide door, called the Door of the Humility. The reason for being designed like this was to prevent horse riding attacks. How interesting is that?
Now, take a look at the picture below. The columns are the only surviving elements of the original Church, build in the 12th century by the crusaders. On some of them you can still distinct old frescoes.
The main center of the Church is the Nativity Grotto – so expect long queues to enter. You will notice the 14 pointed silver star which marks the place Jesus was born.
While reading the Lonely Planet travel guide I found a very interesting story about this star. In 1847 the original star was stolen and the three Christian parts taking care of the Church accused each other for the incident. As a result, the star we see today is a replica not the original one which by the way nobody knows where is it.
However, to avoid any further disputes about the Church custody, the Church management has been divided meter by meter between the three parts (Orthodox, Catholic & Armenian).
Saint Catherine’s Church
This Gothic Church is located exactly near the Nativity one. It is well known for broadcasting the midnight Christmas Eve Mass all over the world.
Milk Grotto Church
Honestly speaking, I never heard about this story before visiting Bethlehem. Not far away from the preview points is a Church known for its Milk Grotto Chapel. The story says while Virgin Mary was breast feeding baby Jesus, a drop of milk felt over a red rock which suddenly become white.
Stop and pray by the icon which is said to have healing powers then go one level down to see the chapel through the window glass, with its white rock in the middle.
Mosque of Omar
Even if I’m Christian, I almost never lose the opportunity to enter and pray in other religious places. In the end, we are all one nation and at the end of the world we will be one single religion, with one single God.
As you need to cover yourself in the Mosque, a nice lady welcomed my mother and myself helping us to wrap the scarfs around us. Even if they knew we weren’t Muslim and the reason we came there was more by curiosity and visiting than praying, they never looked us in a judging way or made us feel unwelcome, but on contrary.
So next time you pass by a Religious place which is different from yours, like a Church, Mosque, Temple or Shrine, stop by and make your prayers for your own God, he is definitely hearing us from everywhere.
I need to confess this museum experience was great. Here you can see a traditional Palestinian house from more than 200 years ago. Managed by women, we were very well welcomed into the shop and to discover the museum. One of the ladies came to show us the rooms and offered explanations, which were very much apppreciated.
At the end, I even received a fresh lemon straight from the garden tree as a ‘souvenir’! Small gestures that always make my days!
Virgin Marry Syrian church
While walking through the souq, towards the Lutheran Christmas Church you will notice on your right a Syrian Church. Stop by for a short visit, it doesn’t look much different from the others Churches we know in terms of architecture.
To enter the Church, a man came to open the door for us and at the end he forced us to make some obligatory “donations”, which wasn’t nice at all.
Lutheran Christmas Church
We had a hard time trying to find the entrance for this Church. It is located on the opposite side of the Manager’s square and the preview attractions. There is a door, always closed, so you need to ring a bell in order for somebody to let you in. Also, you need to be patient and try a few times until reaching an answer. The view from up is totally worth in, take your time to admire the souq in its splendor!
Lose yourself on the streets and when you’re tired enough, stop by and enjoy some Arabic cuisine. We had some falafel, shawarma and a good coffee to recharge our batteries.
Your visit to Bethlehem don’t have to stop inside the old city as are more things to see. For instance, only a few kilometers far away there is a place called Beit Sahour.
While its streets and architecture are beautiful enough to make you have a walk, there is something more.
There is a big open area, nicely maintained like a garden but big enough like a park, known as the Shepard’s Field. Maybe going back from what we know from the Christmas carols, here is where the shepherds watched their flocks by night.
Apart from the open space there are a Church and a cave-Chapel to be seen. If you are alone without a guide, try to get close to a group and hear some explanations – this is what we did to learn more about the place! We were lucky to find a Romanian group, so it was even better!
Visit Bethlehem’s souvenir Shops!
Last but not least stop by the souvenir shops! We traveled all over Israel and I can confirm the cheapest souvenirs are in Palestine, and the prettiest ones are in Bethlehem.
I negotiated the prices – the more you buy a better deal you get – and I had two small 3D Nativity mangers for about 7 euro each, an medium icon for 10 euro, an amazing full nativity manger statues for about 30 euro and many bracelets for souvenirs. I spent around 150 euro in only one shop but was worth in every single penny! Each time I will look at them, the memories of the place will come back to life.
Now, go and purchase your own souvenirs, go visit Bethlehem!
Interested to know more about Israel and Palestine? Then continue your journey here.